When it comes to transfer negotiations, the name of Daniel Levy is always at the top of the list of the shrewdest operators.
There are a multitude of reasons why, some are justified and others aren’t. His track record is usually very good. But perhaps the most important part of the perception of Levy is the mystique it creates. There is a myth around the man, and it makes dealing with him tougher. In negotiation, a position of strength – even a fake one – is vital.
But Levy hasn’t always been shrewd – or at least not when it comes to purely squeezing out as much money as possible: there’s more to him than that, both positive and negative.
This summer, for example, the lack of transfer business at Spurs is seen as a Levy problem, as he refuses to spend over the odds for players, something that jars given the fact that the market is so inflated and Spurs’ title rivals are spending big money all around them.
And yet, Davinson Sanchez was signed for £42m, that is, for only slightly less money than Manchester City paid for the best right-back in the Premier League last season, Kyle Walker. It’s reinvested money, sure, but it could well have been spent earlier in the summer and given the player more time to settle into his new surroundings – not to mention his manager’s demanding pre-season routine.
But that’s not necessarily a new thing with Levy. Back in 2012, Luka Modric was sold to Real Madrid for £30m, but the previous season he was courted heavily by Chelsea, who were willing to pay £40m for the player but were rebuffed.
Perhaps the idea of selling a top player to a rival was what the Spurs director wanted to avoid. Maybe he thought that it showed ambition to keep a player of Modric’s quality for an assault on the Champions League places again, and ultimately even a title charge. And whilst his aim of getting into Europe’s top competition on a regular basis, and to seriously challenge for the Premier League title is probably coming to fruition, he still did it without Modric. And he did sell his asset for £10m less the next season.
The Croatian player himself was seen as a flop at Real Madrid at first. £30m was seen as too much for a player who was voted the worst signing of the season in 2013, just after his first season at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Since then, Spurs have established themselves in a similar way to Modric. The midfielder is now seen as one of the top players in the world, and one of the main man who makes Real Madrid tick – no small praise in any era, but when it’s in a Madrid team who became the first team to retain the Champions League it’s an even greater feat.
For Tottenham, it’s a similar thing: they’ve become one of the best teams in the country, an innovative and thrilling side who are challenging for honours right when the league has become its most competitive. There are now six sides who can win the title, who have superstar managers and who are among the best sides in Europe, and Spurs are one of them.
But if there’s one question mark, it’s how long they can keep their best players.
There are already rumblings of discontent. Kyle Walker’s move to Manchester City brought in quite a bit of money, but given the fact that he managed to pocket such a pay rise from his move north, other players are starting to ask why they aren’t worth that much in wages, too. After all, all they did was stay loyal to their club, and surely that’s worth something.
Danny Rose has voiced those concerns – in a very public, very reckless way – but you can’t help but feel that others think the same thing. And with Daniel Levy’s mystique of being a shrewd businessman who could squeeze blood out of a stone, you can see why the players might think they’re being hard done by. To rub salt into the wound, Levy is, ironically, one of the best-paid directors in the Premier League.
But perhaps a look back to the Luka Modric situation shows that it’s not all about money, and that sometimes it’s about trying to do the right thing. Modric wasn’t so much persuaded to stay for another year as made to, and in doing so helped the club to finish in the top four (though miss out on the Champions League thanks to Chelsea’s victory in the competition), and that was for the good of the team, despite the loss of £10m.
Maybe that should give hope to the players that they can get their pay rises, that the cap on salaries that is in effect at Tottenham can be removed, and Spurs can be a club who pay the same wages as everyone else at the top of the Premier League.
The aura Levy exudes is of a man who can’t be crossed in negotiations, which is a useful impression to give. But right now he might have to show a softer side. If not, that slow, sustainable growth might stop exciting some of the best players in the Premier League, and a Tottenham exodus could follow.
And if it does, like with Modric, Spurs could find themselves unable to recoup as much money as they could’ve done otherwise.